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The Narcissist's Airtight Victim Narrative

Victimhood is a less obvious form of narcissistic grandiosity.

Key points

  • Exaggerated victimhood is a common feature of narcissistic grandiosity.
  • Narcissistic personalities often feel victimized because of their unrealistic expectations, hypersensitivity, and lack of empathy.
  • Narcissists also play the victim to elicit sympathy and avoid responsibility for their abusive behavior.

A primary pathology of the narcissistic personality is delusional grandiosity. This is most obviously displayed as arrogant entitlement, but exaggerated victimhood is another persistent feature of narcissistic grandiosity that can be hard to detect and even harder to understand.

Why Narcissists See Themselves as Victims

Let's take a closer look at the narcissist's delusional sense of victimization. Why do they see themselves this way?

Feelings of Deprivation. Psychologically, the narcissistic personality operates from a perspective of deprivation, believing there is never enough deference to their feelings, needs, and specialness. Narcissists' sense of deprivation derives from an underdeveloped identity, an inability to validate their self-worth internally, and a compensatory delusion of superiority that creates cognitive dissonance between reality and their exaggerated expectations of what life owes them.

Hypersensitivity. Because of their notorious emotional reactivity and hypersensitivity to not getting what they believe they deserve, whether it be attention, compliance, admiration, or forms of service, narcissists frequently experience feelings of unfairness or even persecution. The ordinary slights and setbacks we all endure are for the narcissistic personality enraging affronts to their sense of self-importance.

Lack of Empathy. Narcissists' lack of emotional empathy means they rarely if ever look at situations from any perspective but their own and habitually see themselves as the wronged party when there is disappointment or conflict in their relationships.

Victim Identity. People scapegoated in childhood in a narcissistic family system who develop a narcissistic personality often strongly identify as victims and continue to frame their experiences that way in their adult relationships. An all-encompassing sense of victimization, common in the more covert type of narcissist, becomes the organizing principle of the self. This type appears far less showboating and more vulnerable than the overt narcissist, but they share the same underlying personality structure, including feelings of superiority and repressed shame (splitting), destructive envy, and an impoverishment of empathy for others.

Why Narcissists Use the Victim Stance

Narcissists' compulsion to frame their experience as unjust and take the victim stance stems from their underlying instability and compensatory grandiosity. But playing up the part of the tragically wronged victim is also a manipulative strategy that serves their desire to control others and sidestep accountability for their opportunistic and abusive behavior.

Pity Ploys. Because narcissists are heavily dependent on others for validation of self and believe they should be catered to, posturing as the victim of uncaring people or unfair circumstances is a common narcissistic strategy for invoking guilt and getting attention, sympathy, or caregiving. Empathetic types of people can be especially susceptible to narcissists' victim narratives, which often involve damaging distortions, omissions, and outright lies about their family members, friends, or coworkers. Many narcissists become so skilled at portraying themselves as long-suffering victims of awful exes or ungrateful adult children that they succeed in alienating them from other family and community members who buy into the narcissists' devastating character assassinations.

Victim Blaming. Empty, alienated, envious, and contemptuous, narcissists are relational antagonists who exploit and demean others to manage their emotions and prop up their self-esteem. Developmentally immature, they rely heavily on the childhood defenses of denial and projection. The most pernicious aspect of narcissistic false victimhood is victim blaming, a form of projection whereby the narcissist behaves abusively toward someone and then accuses that person of abusing them. An example is a narcissistic spouse who is engaging in infidelity but tells family and friends that their spouse is being unfaithful, or a narcissistic parent who provokes a child with mockery or criticism and then claims the child is too sensitive, difficult, or angry.

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